How an indie artist increased their YouTube views 1550%


If you’ve ever run ads for your music, you know it’s important to focus on your goals. Starting with a goal is key.

But what happens when you begin with one goal and your campaign takes an unexpected turn? 

I had the privilege to sit down with Sean Armbruster of the indie label Camp Hopeless to chat about his recent advertising efforts. In the interview below, Sean talks about how his ad campaign led to:

  • 30k+ new YouTube views
  • an exponential growth in YouTube Content ID revenue
  • and a spillover of interest on other platforms too

Sean also discusses how he identified these opportunities, defined success, and broadened his reach online. Plus, we dig into his ad creative, how to evaluate ad performance through multiple analytics tools, and ways to experiment with marketing to find what your fans respond to most!

Effective music advertising: An interview with Sean Armbruster

Do you mind giving me just a few points about Camp Hopeless? What do you do? What’s your focus?

I’m in a band called Fantastic Mammals and we established Camp Hopeless as our DIY label. The big thing for us was ownership of the masters and the understanding of streaming revenues. Once it’s out there, it’s great but you’re not really making money on it. My thought was: “Is there something that we can have like an inner circle?”

So we’ve gone with sending out physical postcards. Anyone that’s on our mailing list has early access to tracks before we release them. We also push out bonus tracks, merchandise discounts, or sending out actual gifts on an annual basis.

If we’re going to own our recordings fully, then why wouldn’t we own our media channels fully? That is what Camp Hopeless is to us. Basically, we want to make the music that we want to make, and we want to reach the people that want to enjoy it. We’re not going for just number count. We want to be giving people what they want when they’re interested in it, not just paying for a bunch of fake clicks and quickly dissipating interactions. It’s about longevity.

But how do we find new fans in unexpected places that will want to sign up for Camp Hopeless? I came across through CD Baby. I had done some of this work in my past life with media buying in a totally different field, but it just looked really interesting to me. 

I started just putting the feelers out, looking at our Spotify and Bandcamp metrics and some of our physical email and mailing lists. I wanted to see where everybody is listening now? We’re starting to see spike-ups in unexpected places; and then I started to increase the budget five bucks a week and retool the ads slightly, to figure what’s working and what’s not.

I started with really pushing for Spotify because I was like this is a great engagement; but it turned out, with, we were able to get something that totally floored us.

What happened was we noticed YouTube picking up. This is all thanks to opting into CD Baby’s YouTube Monetization program and following that up with Show.Co Ad Builder campaigns. We have an album that we put out about three years ago entitled Fantastic Mammals (And Where To Find Them) that had slow and steady traction for us with our existing genre fanbase and platforms that we focused on.

Now three years later, we’re starting to do this promotion to drive up our Spotify traffic and prep for releasing new material. All of a sudden, one of the previous albums’ royalty stats just starts lighting up in our CD Baby monthly payouts. 

Here’s what happened: Through the combined magic of ads and YouTube Content ID, we started getting massive royalties from YouTubers that had put our songs in the background of their videos and on their YouTube music playlists. 

So when you distribute your music through CD Baby and opt in to Sync Licensing, the YouTube videos that are auto-generated by CD Baby can become absolute breadwinners. For the song, “The Space Age 60’s” (which is three years old at this point) – It just starts absolutely taking off. It went from a couple of thousand views to 33,000 views just within a matter of two months.

Then, that starts getting people to playlist our song on YouTube. First, it’s appearing on weird all-over-the-place music playlists. Then the song sort of found a groove genre-wise.

All of this YouTube activity is now boosting everything else across the board… Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music. So it was just this really cool affirmation to see that sometimes you just need to keep showing up. Then, just as long as you’re prepared, you’re just going to have that nice little boost that pushes you to the next thing.

Now we are just getting to work on the REFrACTOR EP release. That’s a new campaign I’m running, and again we’re starting to see one of the new tracks “Nomadic Peoples (Alt. Mix)” is starting to really pick up on YouTube, thanks to the ad support we have put behind it. We are seeing the success start up all over again with the new song.

In building our next ad campaigns with, we are just looking at YouTube data. We’re picking out our geographical regions and the playlists that the existing songs are really picking up on. It turns out there’s a lot of places we’d never expected to have an audience. For example, there’s a lot of activity from the Philippines!

But we’re seeing those brand new audiences cross over on Spotify and Bandcamp too, and they are putting our songs on relevant playlists with major artists and hit punk/post-punk songs. It’s good harmony, right? CD Baby provided the monetization, and helped us really be able to hone in these ads. It was the best of both worlds.

All of these rapid pops of YouTube activity in turn steadily expanded our core fanbase. So short-term wins led to long-term wins. It led to Spotify follows. It led to Camp Hopeless postcard mailer sign-ups. 

We just kept targeting where we saw success, and just putting that little bit of chase after that. It’s more about consistency, I’ve noticed, than anything. Keep it going. Keep the budget going, and as the royalties come in, funnel it back into your Show.Co Ad Builder budget… and of course pick up a few more cool plugins for your recording rig!

That’s so awesome to hear. I love all of that. What did you decide to do once you noticed that YouTube pickup? Did you focus all of your energy on YouTube or did you have a way to funnel those YouTube fans to those places like Spotify?

I think the only thing we did is beef up the YouTube channel. CD Baby pushes the releases to the platform, and then when that audio is being used in other videos, they’re collecting the royalties too. So, with those royalty reports, and then with the Ad Builder Report we’re seeing the geo targets and the clicks where everything’s coming from.

If this is bringing in the money and slow, organic growth, we’ve hit our goal. People are gonna find the song and if they like it, they like it. The newer ads I’m running for this YouTube playlist we’re just trying to get that messaging out there. We’re doing the Interactive Banners and getting that wide reach.

We’re looking for who’s going to be in there that we’re not expecting. I think that’s the big thing – what is out there that is in our blind spot? We didn’t know any of these markets existed before.

I love that you’re looking at your audience data and are making really smart decisions based on that; that’s really cool. So, speaking of success, what kind of advice would you give to somebody just starting out in advertising on what success means when you’re running ads?

I think a lot of times people get discouraged with it. It’s not bad to just start with a couple of bucks. Start with a minimum and just cast a broad net. Then just chase after and consistently do it.

It’s more about showing up and doing it for maybe three months at a budget that’s within reason on the lower end of what you want to do. It might be a small sample size but just take it as fact, and where you’re not seeing any success cut the fat. Then keep that budget and reapply it to what’s working.

Then once you get to that next tier of success, and that next tier of budget — then that’s a good time to reevaluate. Look at your Spotify data. Look at your CD Baby sales. We’re starting to see sales from TikTok. We’re starting to see a couple other random things so why not pull that in and see where we’re showing up now?

You’re looking at your data holistically in all the different areas, instead of hyper-focusing on one small thing. For example Spotify streams or something similar.

The other cool thing is with Ad Builder: When we’re looking at the “Discovery” tier of sites we can advertise on, we’re seeing a lot of stuff on Guitar Tab sites. So should we be posting our songs onto Ultimate Guitar Tabs?

There are all these cool little surprises and all you need is to try a bunch of things. All you need is one to work. It’s so much trial and error. You just have to find where that’s sticking and keep with it. 

I noticed that you were running both Discovery and Targeted ads, do you notice a difference in pickup between the two? Or do you use both to widen that domain reach?

Within my budget, I can’t do all three website targeting tiers. As I said, I’m incrementally adding a little more each week. We will eventually also run Premium ads as we keep growing our budget to get on the most prestigious sites. But I was seeing enough success with the Targeted tier, even if the impressions were lower, the cost per click was still good. Why not keep it up and see what’s going to happen? obviously sites like The Hard Times, especially in Chicago with Riot Fest, is a great set of eyes to get in front of.

We’re seeing a lot of HYPEBEAST, which is weird because I didn’t think that we’d ever get anything on there… but then again we have a lo-fi instrumental remix of “Space-Age 60’s” that we ran ads for in using “Electronic” genre-targeting.

Discovery & Targeted are within reach for people trying to dip their toes into it. Start with Discovery but don’t be afraid of running Targeted, and don’t be afraid if the cost-per-click is a little higher, or the engagements a little lower. There is a lot more relevancy to these sites. So if you think those sites align more with your desired audience, then it’s probably worth it.

Let’s dig into your creative a little bit. I know that you have the teaser videos in your ads. How did you decide on the calls-to-action and what parts of the videos that you’re using for your teasers?

This is the weird thing with YouTube, right? We have this ad, for our newest release REFrACTOR. It’s a interactive video ad. I have it pointing at the REFrACTOR album playlist with the song uploads that came directly from CD Baby onto YouTube.

Additionally, I created a promo video via YouTube Shorts (much like Instagram Reels or TikTok posts). The promo video is not part of that playlist. But people are now clicking on the promo video because it’s the newest upload to the channel and getting recommended to YouTube users. The promo ShortShrot is gaining ground very fast right now, but it’s not a video that we directly promoted via

So we have well over half of our traffic coming from ads onto YouTube. Now, additionally, this Shorts video I put up three days ago jumped overnight. It was in the single digits, and then this ad started running yesterday and it is now over 300. 

But I think what we’re maybe seeing there is that people just like motion and faces on YouTube. Shocking, I know!

So to summarize, what has done for us on YouTube is this:

  • It got us in front of unlikely eyes 
  • It got us playlisted
  • It got us compounding sync royalties

And it got us to pay attention to YouTube instead of just Spotify.

The reciprocity carries over TO Spotify — so we can get both and focus our ad budget on just YouTube to get new fans and sync royalties; Spotify for fan engagement and retention.

Now we’re talking about planning what we make for our new interactive video ads.  The goal is driving people to our YouTube Music content that’s delivered by CD Baby — because that means sync royalties and new fans across multiple platforms — truly engaged fans. 

So in planning our new interactive video ads:

  • Do we include a more forceful call-to-action? 
  • Do we create custom-made YouTube promotional content, or do we just keep promoting the song links directly? 

So that’s our next experiment in the Ad Builder platform, to try out:

  • Direct CD Baby YouTube uploads of the tracks
  • Promotional YouTube Shorts
  • Lyric/visual videos 
  • And full-fledged music videos

Pit those against each other and see where it lands. Allocate subsequent budgets to the winners.

What kind of metrics would you use to determine success? Would it be, for example, the plays on YouTube, the data that you get from Ad Builder, or a combination of both?

I think I would start by looking at YouTube, then take the key bits back to our dashboard and compare metrics in order to construct your next set of ads. YouTube Studio & the mobile app are absolutely critical to this, and it’s divided into three useful sections:

1.The ‘Overview’ Tab

Views are obviously a fun indicator but you don’t get much info from it. The things I would look at are the ‘top videos,’ which would include the promos. The ‘top songs’ are going to be the tracks delivered by CD Baby to YouTube. That’s what’s getting royalties for us, that’s really the key one. The song that we’re running current ads for with gets the most hits on the ‘top songs’ metric.

2. The ‘Reach’ Tab:

Look at your ‘traffic source types’: Shorts feed, External, YouTube Search, Playlists. Ad Builder sites represent 85% of our external traffic. Our total External traffic is neck-in-neck with our YouTube search.

From there I look into the ‘top playlists.’ I start to look for relevance. I start to look for other music playlists, Twitch/video game-related playlists where people are putting our music on in the background. And we’re looking for – what’s the top stuff here? What are the best things that start to make sense?

 It’s not just about the streams, it’s about looking at these artists that we want to be associated with. Do we feel like x playlist is like just some weird random YouTube thing; or some like person that doesn’t have a big interest in our genre but they like some part of the song; are these fans of our genre? The first few groups of playlists are good, but the last group is the ticket. These are new fans. So now we know that’s the most legit compliment – that’s the kind of stuff that we’re gonna see transfer over to our Spotify and Bandcamp.

If we see a playlist on YouTube, we’ll see a lot of the same artists showing up on a Spotify playlist.

3. The ‘Fans” Tab:

If we’re looking at that, we’re seeing geographies, we’re seeing age ranges, and those are all very in sync with our Spotify user base.

So we’re looking at like here, United States, that this is the stuff that came up since we started doing the ads and getting hits on YouTube from the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, India, and the United Kingdom. these are all like places that we never really had anything before, and now it’s crossing all the platforms; it’s crossing Spotify and Apple Music and Amazon; and this all checks out with our Show.Co Dashboard and ads! 

We got our YouTube Studio data nuggets from all 3 tabs in the mobile app.

But let’s go back to Show.Co Ad Builder dashboard now. Let’s look at total clicks inside the Targeted and Discovery metrics:

  1. From our Targeted ads, we see sites like NME. Obviously, that’s the UK. Hard Times — this is going to be a little bit more US space. 
  2. From our Discovery ads, a lot of these and the guitar tab sites have different country domains, right? And those are great indicators of where we’re getting tons of clicks. They’re actually not just random clicks. These are interested people that show up on Spotify and YouTube and Bandcamp. You can actually look at that data and say “Okay cool, I’m seeing I got 25 clicks or more on, and I can see I’m getting 25 plays on YouTube from the UK.”

We now have everything we need to build and run our next round of ads. The feedback loop is complete – and we compound new long-term fans and sync royalties each time!

Huge thanks to Sean for sitting down with me and providing all of this wonderful information.

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